Louisiana vagrancy law repealed

(Source: Gray News)
Updated: Jun. 12, 2020 at 6:14 PM CDT
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(WAFB) - Governor John Bel Edwards on Friday, June 12, signed into law a bill that repeals the crime of vagrancy in Louisiana.

Two Democratic state representatives asked lawmakers to vote to repeal Louisiana’s vagrancy law during the 2020 regular legislative session.

It’s a law that targets habitual drunkards, prostitutes, habitual gamblers, people who loiter, and able-bodied people who seek to support themselves with welfare or charity rather than seeking employment.

“I want to make it clear - I’m not saying and supporting these various [crimes] such as prostitution and drunkenness. I am not trying to say that I am advocating for those things. What I’m saying is that there are specific laws, that are constitutional laws, that address these issues," said Rep. Pat Moore.

Moore and Rep. Frederick Jones prefiled Louisiana House Bill 137. Moore said they felt the vagrancy law was unconstitutional.

"All I’m trying to do is say these particular vagrancy laws were designed for a purpose that our country and our state don’t want to participate in any longer. We don’t even want it on the books. It’s in the past. We’re moving forward. And let’s just look at removing things that have a dark history that we don’t need any longer,” said Moore.

That “dark history” is racism, Moore said.

Moore says credible researchers have presented evidence to her that the law was originally used as a tool to coerce African Americans back into slavery after they were freed from servitude.

“We don’t want to keep laws on the books that were certainly designed to prevent free slaves. It was targeted to the free slaves in trying to get them to come back and be submissive to slavery,“ said Moore.

She claims to have gotten a firsthand look at lawmakers arguing to dismantle another Louisiana law rooted in racism, the law that allows split-jury decisions in felony trials.

Moore said she spoke with district attorneys and members of law enforcement around the state who claim they avoid enforcing the vagrancy law because it seems unconstitutional.

In East Baton Rouge Parish, however, one of the most recent vagrancy charges happened on Saturday, Feb. 29.

Two individuals were charged with remaining after forbidden and vagrancy when officers found them sleeping in the grass near the Department of Transportation and Development building, records show.

The arresting officer wrote the two were “previously warned about sleeping on state property.” Both individuals told the officer they were homeless and sleeping at the building each night, arrest records show.

In 2014, the legislature instructed the Louisiana State Law Institue to produce biennial reports for lawmakers about laws ruled unconstitutional in various court decisions that are still on the books for the state.

The Louisiana State Law Institue can make recommendations about laws that should be removed, but it falls on the legislature to follow through on those recommendations.

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